Where The Wild Things Are review
Spike Jonze has moved from directing Beastie Boy music videos to a richly symbolic love letter to the wild imagination and freedom of childhood. ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ blends animation and reality with a gorgeous soundtrack by Karen O. One word? Genius. Four words? Yay for wolf suits!
Finally – finally – I have watched Spike Jonze’s adaptation of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’. This film is based on the children’s classic picture book by Maurice Sendak and is notably co-produced by Tom Hanks. It is an absolute delight…
On the visual side, the movie is shot in a blended animated-reality fashion and has all the elements of aesthetic genius. The cinematography and special effects are nothing short of spectacular – elaborate set design, vivid colour schemes, and an outstanding directing job by Spike Jonze, who famously practised his filmic skills not only on seminal Beastie Boys videos but also on treating his camera like an extension of his hands, being so dynamic in his cameramanship that he frequently broke his cameras – though not, fortunately, his hands.
‘Where the Wild Things are’ also boasts an unorthodox soundtrack, the majority of which is composed by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. So, yes, this film is an immensely pleasing sensory overload… but as the kids would say – “Duh, there’s way more.”
The story follows Max, a fiercely energetic yet ill-behaved boy who feels isolated and in search of his place in the world. We first meet Max as he ferociously chases the family dog through the house while dressed in a wolf costume. That’s a great way to first meet anybody. The peculiarity of Max’s wolf outfit (which he sports through the entire film) foreshadows a highly symbolic theme (more on that in a bit). As Max’s loving but inattentive mother punishes him for his misconduct, he is propelled into a fit of rage and decides to escape into a fantasy world. He sails into the night across an ocean of menacing waves, over sky-high mountain cliffs, and deep into the woods where he encounters the quirky yet intimidating group of Wild Things…
Max approaches the towering creatures and attempts to imitate their signature roar as a proclamation of his arrival with a naive fearlessness that is inherent in children yet all too often dissolves with age. Max dances about a fire with the Things, establishes himself as their king, and eases into their customary way of life where leisure activities include playful (yet painful) mud fights, fort destruction, and sleeping in a massive “pile” of their own bodies. As the story unravels further, the viewer finds himself infused with vicarious freedom and a sense of yearning for childhood memories. Clever Spike Jonze!
Prominent themes of youth and invincibility thread their way through the movie and artfully capture the nostalgia of the childhood psyche and imagination. Through his imprudent behaviour and defiance of all odds, Max’s character conveys a sense of infinite possibility and absolute freedom. The naive, yet self-assured optimism with which he lets his imagination roam is further captured by his confident tale-telling of the universe and of the special powers he holds as a king. The characters take us on a liberating journey as they charge wildly through the trees, roll about in the endless fields, and howl passionately into the wind. Jonze succeeds in portraying a sense of utter freedom and a fantastical, inconsequential world where the imagination holds no limits.
Ultimately, Max finds comfort in the ability to relate to the Things and to take on their identity, essentially becoming ‘one of them’. The emergent relationship bears a faint resemblance to the story of Tarzan where a familial bond is also formed through atypical social development. The significance of Max’s wolf suit and wild antics surface as representations of his inner struggle. In the presence of the creatures he is finally freed and realizes that he, too, is a ‘Wild Thing’ at heart.
Max’s journey allows him to realize the importance of love and family and propels him to run back to his mother where she awaits him with a hot plate of dinner. The boy contently eats away as she sits across from him, neither one of them taking their eyes off the other. This is definitely be the part where you sigh and think to yourself “Ahh…I love my mom.”
Spike Jonze deserves all the praise in the world for the creatively brilliant effort that he put into this work. We’ve given you the plot, but don’t think of it as plot spoilers. This film isn’t about plot – it’s about the experience of watching a film and going on a journey. This mind-opening story covers love, acceptance, and the importance of child-like innocence and imagination. It is truly a reminder of the ‘Wild Thing’ in all of us.
It might make you cry, it might make you laugh, and it might well make you happily homesick. It will certainly make you think about childhood, and the glory of wolf suits, and all sorts of things. And what’s wrong with thinking, eh?
Amazon: Where The Wild Things Are DVD